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Noreen Jeglum | Faculty Mentor: Molly Nikolas

May 01, 2015
Noreen Jeglum with her mentor Molly Nikolas

Noreen Jeglum, a senior studying psychology, has been a research assistant in the Iowa ADHD and Development Lab since her freshman year. 

“[Jeglum] has been just a phenomenal research assistant,” Professor Molly Nikolas said. “She’s very bright and motivated.” 

Nikolas added that Jeglum is incredibly busy and takes on a lot of responsibility, but is still always very enthusiastic and organized. 

Nikolas’ research involves examining the causes of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Specifically, Nikolas examines the role of genetics as well as how genes and environment interact to contribute to the development and persistence of ADHD. 

“We know that genes make a moderate-to-large contribution to ADHD,” Nikolas explained. “It’s also likely that genes are not the only thing that matter.” 

The lab is currently doing two main studies, Nikolas said. The first, known as the Family Study, involves recruiting families with multiple members who have been diagnosed with ADHD. The lab then sequences regions of their genes and DNA to look for rare variants, or variants that don’t occur often in a population. 

If one of these variants is overrepresented, Nikolas said, it could mean it is linked to the disorder.

Nikolas’ lab is also researching ADHD in young adults. The study involves a group of participants with ADHD and a control group without ADHD. The lab takes saliva samples, collects questionnaires, and conducts a three-hour assessment with participants to look at their developmental history and family environment. The researchers use this data to examine how these factors influence ADHD later on in life.

Recently, Nikolas and her team have discovered that COMT, a gene that influences neuron communication in the brain, works differently in people with ADHD. A mutation in this gene is associated with the continuation of ADHD from childhood to adulthood, when paired with a conflicting family environment. Nikolas will present these findings at a conference in July. 

“There will be many more things coming out,” Nikolas said. “We’ve only just started.”

Some of Jeglum’s main responsibilities in the lab include running participants through informed consent and giving them directions for the study. She also helps conduct the study, she said, adding that research assistants also read articles about the latest findings with ADHD and discuss them each week at lab meetings.

“Because I have so much experience reading research articles, I feel like I get a lot more out of them now,” Jeglum said.

Jeglum added that working in the research lab has also made her major more interesting. She explained that she could relate the things she was working on in class to the things she practiced as a research assistant. “Because I could see the real world implications of why people do research, it made me appreciate the whole major, and I was a lot more interested in it after that,” Jeglum said. 

On top of Jeglum’s work in the lab, she is working on an honors thesis. Her project looks at ways childhood ADHD may impact sexual risk-taking behaviors in young adults, and how those associations differ between males and females. 

Jeglum’s honors thesis will use data the lab has collected over the last three years. The manuscript will cover her original research question, prior methodologies, and the results of the statistical analyses she has performed. 

The most challenging part of her honors thesis so far, Jeglum said, is learning how to write in a sophisticated, scientific way. 

One thing Nikolas thinks is interesting and unique about Jeglum’s honors thesis is that she has found a way to combine both of her majors, psychology and French. Jeglum wrote her honors thesis in psychology last semester, and is now working on translating it into French for her French honors thesis.

Jeglum said the thing she enjoys most about majoring in psychology is that it is applicable to the real world and can offer a deeper understanding of what others are going through. As for French, Jeglum has been learning the language for over 10 years, and said she enjoys being bilingual. Jeglum added that she got to practice her French in Paris over the summer. 

As for the future, Jeglum will be getting her MSOT (Master of Science in Occupational Therapy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bonne chance, Noreen Jeglum!